How Online Casinos Balance Gaming and Games

We spoke with PlayFrank; an iGaming site with four years in the business, and with a focus on markets in five countries. PlayFrank’s Project Manager discusses everything from gamer trends and ethical player retention, to the unique nature of online casino marketing and the importance of gamification. Within the interview we look at the profiles of those working within the industry, and discuss what an aspiring game developer or marketer might learn from working with an online casino like PlayFrank.

What brought you and the people of PlayFrank into the iGaming industry? Did you have backgrounds in game design originally?

I saw the online casino business as an interesting career prospect when I started noticing how many uninteresting casino sites existed. I was confident we could create something of better value, and that it would be fun, so I started exploring what this would entail and just saw it as a great opportunity. My background was technical, so I thought it would be a fitting challenge. The team’s backgrounds are fairly diverse though – we have people from graphic design, communications, marketing. I would say a marketing background is very common throughout the iGaming industry.

Which is not surprising. The marketing side of things is just as important as the technical in this business. Ultimately you want to drive traffic to the site, create an appealing brand and keep players coming back – so it makes sense that a lot of marketers are attracted to opportunities in iGaming. Although at PlayFrank we kind of did things the other way around, by starting with a good product and then focusing on the marketing. Most online casino companies do the opposite; they think of the brand and the marketing first, and then outsource the technical part.

How do sites such as collaborate with game designers and providers in creating the best possible product for players?

In iGaming, it’s actually quite unusual to see this kind of collaboration. For the most part, we hire pre-made games that fit our image and appeal to our players. In other words, we’re not as concerned with the game development itself as we are with presenting the games in an appealing fashion. The problem is that, with so many new casino sites constantly being created, the games on their own are no longer enough to attract players. Anyone can put the top games on their own casino website. What matters is offering the player a unique experience on your particular site.

This doesn’t just relate to a strong brand image or a fun site design, but also to casino gamification. By that, we mean adding on extra ‘layers’ to each game. For example, we offer players the option to ‘level up’ within a levelling system unique to our site, which becomes a game in itself. We call them ‘Tracks’. If you complete the first Track, this opens up the possibility to choose from new Tracks. They’re basically player journeys which become increasingly elaborate and customized the more you play. For example, a player can choose a ‘Free Spin Track’, whereby if they level up they get free spins. Alternatively, they can do a Bonus Track and earn deposit bonuses. We are constantly looking at ways to add more Tracks to our system for better value to the player, allowing them to choose their own rewards.

This is an inhouse development separate from the game development stage. However we do communicate with the game developers in making this happen and evolving this. So if a player is rewarded five bonus rounds after they reach a certain level, a request will be sent to the game developer which specifies the player and the reward. The game developers are therefore aware of this internal gamification and do look to make their games more flexible for these purposes. This is evidenced by the increasing number of tournament and trophy elements that developers like NetEnt offer with Netent Extend, or QuickSpin with their Achievement Engine.

What are the challenges of marketing casino games? Do you have any tips?

The challenging part is the fact that iGaming, despite being a very young industry, is highly competitive. Other than that it’s the different regulations – it’s extremely important to use that we’re as compliant as possible, so when regulations change overnight in some territories, it becomes very demanding and time-consuming to keep up with all the markets in which you operate. It’s a worldwide industry, after all, yet there is no unified governmental approach and we have to be quick to respond to new regulations.

It didn’t really affect us, but there was for example a recent marketing regulation enforced in the UK that banned the depiction of especially child-friendly imagery in casino games. The point of the regulation is to minimize risk of underage gambling. For this purpose, we monitor payment methods and ask players to submit proof of age if we detect anything that might be indicative of the fact that they are underage Typically players are aware that online casinos need to do this, and happy to submit any necessary documentation. We don’t see that underage playing is much of a problem, however – it rarely occurs and is easily dealt with.

There are also rules that apply when it comes to presenting bonus offers, as terms and conditions must be presented in full – in what is sometimes an already limited advertising space. These sort of things are unavoidable, of course, and always in the best interest of the players or to protect minors, but they are unique to the igaming industry, and something that an online casino marketer must keep in mind. That being said, online casinos aren’t the only area of gaming where regulations apply – console and PC video games are also subject to gambling regulation as we’ve seen on the current debate around loot boxes.

Besides regulation, a marketing challenge arises from the globalized nature of iGaming – that is, localization. Using local knowledge to strengthen the player experience really works and will help you succeed, but it can be a tricky to localize perfectly for all markets in which you’re operating.

How was the PlayFrank ‘look’ chosen?

We wanted to make the brand imagery quite flexible. This way, we reach as wide an audience as possible. On the other hand, we wanted a distinctive and easily recognizable look – so it was about finding that balance. A lot of our players seem to like the light and modern design, with its airy feel and blue colors.

Interestingly we recently started advertising on websites outside of the iGaming industry, but the results weren’t as good as we had hoped, and the feedback we received from partners suggested that this was because it wasn’t completely obvious from the ads that we were an online casino. In other words, more visual themes based around online casinos were needed to make us recognizable as a casino site. What we learned from this is, whilst it’s fun to be unique in our presentation on the site itself, it’s important to be clear about what you’re advertising when promoting offsite. It was really valuable marketing insight and has helped us refine our approach going forwards.

What is the key thing players want in an online casino, and how do you optimize your site for this?

In general, players look for online casinos that are quick to load, easy to navigate, and which have a rich selection of games on offer. There’s actually a lot that points towards players wanting to return to traditional, ‘evergreen’ games. Obviously you have some players who like to experiment and try something new from time to time, but online casinos make most of their money on classic games like Gonzo’s Quest and Starburst. Cleopatra Slots, for example, has been around for years and you’ll even spot Cleopatra slot machines at brick-and-mortar casinos, so of course this recognizably is going to make the game extra appealing online.

We also see preferences for high velocity and low velocity games. This concerns the RTP (return-to-player, i.e. the percentage of each bet that goes back to the player over a period of time). The RTP can be rewarded in different ways. Some players prefer games where you win small amounts fairly often, whereas other players like games in which you go a long time without winning anything, but when you do win – it’s a big sum. There are also medium velocity games which fall somewhere in between. We see that in the UK, high velocity games are a lot more popular. We like to present a mixture of high and low velocity games, in any case.

Changing a player’s lobby and dashboard to suggest games which are similar to what they have previously played is also a great way of improving the player’s experience. In light of GDPR, there are limits on how much data we can collect on player behavior – but as much as we can, we will customize a player’s experience for their particular preferences.

Other than that, players look for a site that is reliable, trustworthy and compliant with regulations. They want to know how quickly payments are made, whether the online casino is licensed, what kind of customer support is in place. Players look for professionalism. We put this at the core of our brand, as we do with responsible gaming. It’s a big thing for us, to ensure that the player feels comfortable and is never tempted to play more than is practical.

For example, we don’t have an expiration date on our leveling system like some online casinos do. Whereas you might lose all your progress and privileges if you don’t log in for three weeks at some sites, at players will always be able to return to their last level, regardless of how long they take a break from the site. We think players appreciate this – and it builds a trusting relationship with them in the long-run.

Would you look favorably upon a candidate with experience in other types of gaming, or recommend iGaming as a good stepping stone for those interested in a video games career?

We’re always happy to welcome people from other gaming-related industries, as there are a lot of skills and knowledge that they could share. For example, we discovered how players have preferences for high and low velocity games ourselves, but somebody with previous experience might have been able to tell us this from the start. The skills you’ll learn working in the iGaming industry are also very transferable, so it’s definitely an interesting place to start your career as a game developer, site developer or marketer.

What do you predict for the future of online casinos?

Despite being a young industry, I wouldn’t say the online casino business is particularly innovative – at least not as much as it could be. There has been a lot of ambitious ideas surrounding the incorporation of virtual reality into online casino games, for example, but we’ve not seen it materialize just yet. There are always a lot of bold, game-changing ideas in iGaming, which we can for example see at networking conferences, but it’s always difficult to say whether an idea will be executed successfully, considering industry figures tend to avoid taking big risks.

One thing we’re likely to see more of is the increase of mobile site designs. In the recent past, it was typical that you focused on desktop first and then created a mobile-compatible version of your site. Nowadays, it’s quickly becoming the norm to do things the other way around, and more and more functionalities of a mobile design are incorporated into the overall site design. There are lots of benefits to this, especially as an online casino.

As far as pure marketing goes, we’re seeing in general that social media is playing a bigger role in all sorts of industries. Twitch and YouTube are becoming big marketing tools, for example – as well as influencer marketing. We like to be creative with our marketing and are definitely looking at more ways to use social media and other popular platforms to get our brand out there.

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